Arlesheim, Basel-Landschaft (BL), Schweiz/Suisse/Svizzera/Switzerland

[1984 Nikon FE2 SLR 35-mm roll film camera, s/n 1816483, with Nikkor AI 50-mm f/1.8 lens, s/n 2336591, and 52-mm polarizing filter;
Kodak Ektar 125 (Kodak 5101 | Ektar 125-1) 36-exposure colour negative film]

© Copyright photograph by Stephan Alexander Scharnberg, November 1991

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dents de Morcles, Vaud et Valais, Suisse

On the weekend du visite, Saturday, September 13, 1986, Jean-Frédéric Rosselet and I aimed for the Dent de Morcles, in fact two summits—our destination, the Grande Dent de Morcles at 2968 metres, and the Petite Dent de Morcles at 2929 metres.
We travelled by train to Bex, from there ascending with a yellow-with-red-stripe PTT Swiss post bus up through le Bévieux and Frenières to les Plans at 1101 metres, the turnaround point for the bus.
We commenced our hike turning right, up four hairpin bends in the trail, then levelling out for a bit, a little north of and below Pointe des Savolaires, 2294 metres, passing through a few wire gates, over wood stiles, across meadows, meeting two milk jerseys with bells clang-clanging as they munched on grass.
Soon we passed through the hamlet of Javerne, 1666 metres, and turning south for a now steeper ascent for the Croix de Javerne at 2097 metres, marked with an approximate two metre wood cross with carved lettering. We were rewarded with a magnificent, albeit overcast, view of the region.
Somewhere a little further along we stopped in on a hiking refuge, the overcast sky clearing for mostly blue, clotted with cloud here and there. We each purchased a bowl of tea to go with our pain de Vaud, jambon fumé, and soft stinky cheese known as Tomme.
Satisfied and rested up, packs hoisted, and away we went, soon coming upon the Grand Vire, a horizontal path across two steep combs, the path thinner and less secure with some loose shale and rock in numerous places, even erased by erosion in a few spots, picking our way along until we met the foot path at the base of a chimney.
Now it was a very steep and narrow climb, yellow painted arrows showing the way up on a very tiny path, zig-zagging up the very steep, rocky couloir. It was built by the Swiss Army many years ago. On occasion rocks the size of grapefruits accompanied by plentiful smaller stuff would come down, necessitating gymnastics, forcing us to duck under overhangs or pull our full backpacks up over our heads. Luckily we could usually hear the tumbling well in advance. The sun was receding westward, with it a significant temperature drop, still no summit in sight through the top of the chimney quite far up.
In the half dark we finally came out on a crest and quickly and easily to the left for the awesome summit, somewhat level in places. Our reward was a magnificient 360° view in the evening glow. The morning was to reward us with even better.
Supper was heated on a primus burner—freeze-dried pasta with white cream sauce, buttered bread, a shot of white wine each, then black coffee.
It was necessary to sleep fully clothed despite the sleeping bags rated -15° and all-season, it was so cold at that altitude.
We were greeted early with a glorious sunrise over the Alps, the rose and orange colours sweeping westward peak by peak. At this height one could see pretty much all the Swiss ranges, the northern Italian, and probably even some western Austrian peaks, too.
After a breakfast of black coffee and oatmeal porridge, we packed up and decided to head northeast a little, checking out the ridge toward the Dent Favre, 2917 metres, and a somewhat closer view the Petit and Grand Muveran, 2820 and 3051 metres respectively.
By now we had slowly warming sun, the cloud shreds increasingly scattered.
Now we made down the northern slope and curving westward over the ridge leading to the Pointe des Martinets, 2638 metres, eventually coming upon yesterday’s Grande Vire and turning right to a crest and then down a grassy comb to a marked path soon passing the old military barracks of Rionda. Jean-Frédéric told me of a network of tunnels throughout these mountains, constructed in the name of national defense, all as a result of the famous “Reduit Concept” developed by General Henri Guisan in the summer of 1940. Recently I read that it was about 23 kilometres of tunnels! Some tunnels and fortifications throughout the country were abandoned in the 1990s.
It was another good hour until we reached the La Tourche hut with its beautiful view. From here we descended the old military trail to Le Crêtelet and the path to Les Martinaux, followed by about twenty bends in the road down to the hamlet of Morcles and another thirty tight hairpin bends leaving this little mountain road at Lavey les Bains for the road to St-Maurice.
At the train station we rested about 40 minutes for the next local train. The only others waiting for the same train was an old farm couple, leather-faced from decades outdoors in all weather, sporting traditional costumes from their village, wherever that was—Jean-Frédéric said they were in the Valaisan style with subtle variations in the details, specific to their village and valley. They must have been off to some special event or celebration because one did not see anyone wearing regional costume in daily life anymore.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Barcelona, Catalunya, Spain, Christmas 1986 and New Year’s Day 1987

For my 1986 Christmas vacation I decided to travel to Barcelona with Roser Ylla Janer, a Perceval co-worker with us for a one-year practicum, staying with her family on their rural estate winery several kilometres south of Vic, Osona, and in her absent friends’ flat in the city.

Not being a citizen of the EEC, I needed a visa for travel through France, obtained with some difficulty at the French consulate in Genève—much paper work and a 24-hour wait—because of a new French law in reaction to fears of terrorism, France having a terrorist movement of French nationalists working closely with the German RAF (Rote Armee Fraktion), an increasingly growing and complex problem.

Across the lake and around Genève, the French Army now had extra soldiers stationed near and at the border—machine guns, bazookas, jeeps, barb wire, and road blocks much in evidence at the main border posts and at all the small village crossings, nightly 20:00 to 7:00, seven days a week.

Certain elements in France were becoming fearful and untrusting toward foreigners, with growing anti-Semitism and other forms of racism. Added to this the student protests against the Chirac government, in Paris and the other big French cities.

On the periphery of all this, the Swiss felt quite smug and secure in their little country, and as we heard more than once, “La Suisse, elle en a raison d’être comme elle est dans un monde pareil” (Switzerland has good reason to be as she is in such a world as this).

Nonetheless, we took the opportunity to travel, despite the striking SNCF (Société Nationale de Chemin du Fer) since Monday the 22nd, arranging to drive down with a Spanish friend working in Camphill Beitenwil in Berne, via Genève, Lyon, Montpellier, and Perpignan to the border, there boarding the famous RENFE Tialgo [sic] at Port-Bou just before dawn. The train runs on a different gauge of track from the French and most European systems. Our friend was on a mad dash for Madrid, but willing to bend his route for this detour.

We passed Girona at about eight, arriving in the winter sunlight Sunday, December 28, 1986. Cataluña was to be the only region of Spain I have visited to this day. This region is basically its own country, a people proud of their language and culture, with a strong, quite evident separatist movement popular with the young, many of them university students.

We were abundantly blessed with sun and blue skies. We walked Las Ramblas, passed the Casa Gaudi, extensively visited La Sagrada Familia, walked the port area and many back streets.

The first evening we met three of her longtime female friends on Las Ramblas, treating us to a high-class Chinese dinner in a pricey, exclusive establishment on a nearby side street—not the kind of Chinese cuisine you would traditionally find in North America. This was Mandarin-style exuding an aura of some past royal dynasty. I can not remember exactly what we ate, but I do remember it was many entrées and much variety, delicious, and very clearly I do recall that we five worked our way through several bottles of a strong, clear alcohol much like sake, likely a Chinese rice spirit, and in each bottle of probably a litre in volume was preserved a scaly, grey baby dragon much like an iguana, ugly as sin, but we pickled ourselves with the stuff, becoming increasingly lively, boisterous, and wildly talkative as the night progressed.

As best as I can remember, her family’s masia (Catalan villa) and vineyard was just west of route C-17, Autovia de l’Ametlla, across from the commune of El Hostalets de Balenyà, a municipality in the comarca of Osona, part of a small but traditional wine-making region, a mix of small family-owned wineries and some larger cooperatives, predominately growing the native red grapes Garnatxa (Grenache) and Ull de Llebre (Tempranillo), and the white grape Picapoll.

Their masia was a typical farmhouse for the region, of considerable size under a pan-tiled roof, evenly square in dimension, originally meant to house several branches of the family, having held three daughters and two sons before they all married and moved out—except for Roser. The living quarters were all on the upper floor, as the ground floor sheltered the animals at one time, the rising body heat keeping the human inhabitants warm in winter, now exclusively used for their winery. A large sun room was furnished with wicker chairs and what we North Americans would consider love seats, and as the show piece a large portrait, oil on canvas, about 3 x 2 metres, of Roser a few years younger. Its colours were vibrant and modern, and I believe she had posed in what resembled typical woman’s attire of ancient Greece.

Catalunya is an autonomous region since 1979, made up of the four provinces of Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona, with its institution of self-government, Govern de la Generalitat, that ties itself to old, traditional forms of Law and Government, enforcing the Catalan Civil Law system although most of the justice system does remain under Spanish authority. It consists of a Parliament, an Executive Council, and a President. But some want complete separation from Spain.

The evening of the 28th we attended a sold-out concert in Vic, Lluis Llach, a popular singer and songwriter on the piano, whom I have enjoyed and admired ever since, although I do not understand a word of Catalan.

Upon hearing Roser was visiting with a Canadian friend, her friends had got us into the show, front and centre, despite no more available tickets. And the separatists made up a large part of the crowd, the hall packed to the rafters, Catalan flags waving, much singing, cheering, and shouting of political slogans—Lluis in favour of the cause. Several of them, some translated by Roser, asked me about Québec separatism and René Lévesque—seemed quite knowledgeable on this subject. The Catalan anthem Els Segadors” (The Reapers) was repeated a few times that evening.

We ate with her family several times, the memorable one being New Year’s Day—half the day eating and drinking, a variety of sophisticated, flavoursome foods each accompanied by select wines and sweeter ones between courses—some from their winery, others locally and foreign, and probably some Penedès or Alella too—with all her siblings and their families present.

Looking at my remaining, hurried, pencil-scribbled notes on loose tattered graphing paper, I will attempt to recall some of the foods.

We started with entremesos (hors d’oeuvres) of tasty cold plates of prime quality smoked and cured sausages and meats such as fuet (a salami) and longaniza (local spiced sausage), slices of cheese and olives, asparagus, and anchovies. Then several amanides (salads) including potato salad with olives, esqueixada (a salad of raw desalted cod), escalivada (roast aubergines, onions, and red peppers), and xató (curly endive lettuce, cod, and anchovies). This was followed by sopes (soups). Finally la carta (the menu) of various courses like butifarra amb mongetes (a stew of Catalan sausage with white beans), bacalla a la llauna (salt cod with tomato, garlic, and parsley) and various other fish and seafood dishes, the special Catalan stew escudella i carn d’olla, more salads and some vegetable sides including espinacs a la catalana (spinach sauteed with raisins and pine nuts), slices of bread rubbed with tomato known as pa amb tomàquet. Hours later dessert wines, coffee, some kind of cake, and a variation of my favourite dessert, crema catalana (cinnamon and lemon-flavoured Catalan crème brûlée).

Later in the evening, after Roser and I circled the farmhouse holding hands, we listened to a cassette of Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for the spaghetti western, Once Upon a Time in the West. We sat on her large brass bed, plump with many pillows and an eider duvet, all in white, first sipping some dessert wine, kissing and cuddling, but the night ending in some long-forgotten disagreement, possibly something to do with our future and her parents’ hopes and wishes, revealed piece by piece. Like the night before, with bedtime very late again, I was quickly off in deep slumber in a guest bed a few doors down the hall from Roser.

A few days earlier I had already been warmly welcomed with open arms and soon I had the distinct impression, later officially confirmed, that they hoped to marry Roser off on me, even though I was definitely not Catholic nor Catalan. Roser had always been the rebellious one, the black sheep, but nonetheless loved. They were irritated and somewhat shamed she was not yet married.

I almost took the bait after a wonderful ten days there, but in early January, soon after our return to Perceval, upon serious, objective reflection, decided against this. By then our Libra-Scorpio incompatibilities were overshadowing our friendship.

In the meantime, we also spent much time in the city, highlights for me seeing again La Sagrada Familia and Park Güell with its thousands of mosaic tiles and pieces, both by Antonio Gaudi, also his Casa Gaudi. And the Catedral Santa Cruz in the old part of the city.

One evening we also rode the local train a little down the coast to Sitges, enjoying a sunset stroll on the beach. Roser said this village is a favourite of the gay tourism trade, some moneyed gays even settling down here, buying up some of the pricier real estate.

One noonday meal down in the harbour out past the Monumento de Colón (tall column with a statue of Christopher Columbus), at a tiny sidewalk restaurant specializing in seafood, we had something with mussels, clams, scallops, and calamari along with a bottle of white wine between us, then a long dockside walk out along the quais.

All the wonderful weather disappeared the day of our departure, buffeted by heavy rains and fierce winds by the time we crossed into France, easier travelling, we initially thought, by bus from Barcelona due to the Tialgo [sic] [kindly corrected by the comment below. Thank you] being booked full as the French railway strike was still in full effect.

But the buses were many and full too, and so it was a long crowded bus ride back to Genève—long delays at the Spanish-French border with the French authorities fine-tooth combing over every traveller’s passport. It was a luxury getting back on the trains, the efficent Swiss trains, for the last bit into St-Prex.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Queyras, Hautes-Alpes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France

On October 15, 1984, each house in Perceval started their annual two weeks relâche (vacation).

This year saw Maison François heading into the Queyras region, part of the Hautes-Alpes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. Our roadtrip took us through Genève, crossing into France just before St-Julien-en-Genevois, then edging past Annecy on its western shoulder, past Aix-les-Bains, through Chambéry and Grenoble, then eastward at le-Pont-de-Claix and onward by way of le Bourg-d’Oisans just southwest of l’Alpe-d’Huez, la Grave, the Col du Lautaret, le Monêtier-les-Bains, Chantemerle, Briançon, Cervières, Château-Queyras, Ville-Vieille, Molines-en-Queyras, and slightly east of Pierre Grosse, up the hill to le Coin, halfway between Pierre Grosse and Fontgillarde, on the road to the Col Agnel on the French-Italian border, in an old chalet at about 2000 metres altitude.

Le Coin sits roughly three kilometres north of St-Véran, the highest permanently-inhabitated village in France.

During the break, I penned three short poems, having taken a stab at three separate little verses in the few months prior. The lengthiest example has long been lost in Claudia’s estate, but “In the Wind” is still in my possession,

I’ve my house in the wind of no memory
And I’ve my knowledge in the Book of Winds.
I’ve my glory in the wind of freedom
And I’ll have my end in the Wind of the Spirits.
and so is “Down by the river”,
I was walking down by the river one day
when I met a beautiful girl.
And she asked me from where I came
And I said:
I am from the stars, skies, sun, and moon.
And she asked me where I was going
And I said:
To the mountains, forests, rivers, and ocean.
I am a creation of our Father in heaven
And you, beautiful girl, are too.
Everyone received some short personal time off. I used my 1½ days for a solo hike, Wednesday, October 17th, up behind the village to the Crête de Batailler, turning right at the Pas du Chai at 2660 metres, the easterly footpath to the Sommet de Batailler at 2748 metres (photo of red backpack) and the altitude markers at 2779 and 2862 metres, at about 15.00 taking a self-portrait with the Kodak Retina IIIS on a tripod at 2805 metres, reaching the 2890-metre point where the short southwesterly Crête de Peyre Nière branches off in a mild descent, onward over some rough and narrow footholds to the 2912-metre Pic du Fond de Peyhin, squeezing through a tight spot between jagged rock and stepping into near-tragedy when I slid and tumbled just shy of 300 metres, judging by the map contour lines, southwesterly down a steep slope of shale, rocks, and old snow, landing in a playful mountain stream, the Riou des Rousses, my Royal Canadian Army fatigues torn, coming to rest on my back, padded by the full red backpack.
That night saw me sleeping on a footpath, through browned grasses, in the Pra Soubeyran at about 2500 metres, the few hours fog replaced by a crisp, cold starry sky. The infinite count of stars all seemed to be within hand reach—it is the rare occasion I have seen as many filling the heavens as on that night. The moon made its appearance around 4.00, then a gorgeous sunrise about 2½ hours later, suddenly awakening me in a bright burst cresting over the crête, the first cow bells of jerseys tolling far below in Fontgillarde, the backpack and all-season sleeping bag rimed white with hoar frost. Sleeping fully-clothed had kept me warm. I just wish I still had that first lengthy poem I wrote.
The weather was superbly graced by blue skies every day, fog building up just about every evening, and crowned with a dusting of snow one day before our return.
We sought our road home by a somewhat roundabout, longer route—the D 205 to Molines-en-Queyras, the D 5 to Ville-Vieille, the D 947 through Château-Queyras, then the D 902 southwest from Château-Queyras along the river Guil into Guillestre and on southward through Vars and the Cols de Vars at 2111 metres, St-Paul, then soon the D 900 westward along the Ubaye, past Barcelonnette, which feeds the Lac de Serre-Ponçon just beyond le Lauzet-Ubaye, where we turned south for Digne in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, then the N 85 westerly along the Bléone, northerly again where it joins the Durance, and still the N 85 through Sisteron, Gap, into Grenoble, then the Autoroute via Chambéry, Aix-les-Bains, and Annecy, and the N 201 through St-Julien-en-Genevois again, into Genève, and home to St-Prex.